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NHL suspends Barnaby indefinitely

Monday, February 14, 2000

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

If Matthew Barnaby were inclined to share his thoughts these days, he likely would admit that he made a mistake by scuffling with New York Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns in a Nassau Coliseum corridor Saturday night.

    More on the Penguins:

Brooks turns up heat on Barrasso, Kovalev

Penguins Report, 2/14/00


That he knows hockey fights belong on the ice, not in a hallway.

That he realizes the time to throw punches isn't when you've been banished to serve an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

And he would be correct, on all counts.

But chances are it never would occur to Barnaby, who checks in at 6 feet, 189 pounds, that he might have made a major error in judgment simply by getting involved with Cairns, who is 6 feet 6, 235 pounds.

Give away six inches and 46 pounds, and you're not just stepping up in class; you're practically going after a whole new species.

That kind of logic doesn't register with Barnaby after he's laced up his skates and wrapped his hands around a stick, though. His adrenal glands become turbo-charged when he pulls on his work clothes, reducing Barnaby to raw energy and emotion.

And when a guy operates on the edge the way Barnaby does, he's bound to go over it occasionally.

"His whole game revolves around walking that fine line between going too far and not going far enough," Penguins defenseman Brad Werenka said. "If he's not walking that line, he's not as effective for the team. ... It's difficult to walk that line and not go over it sometimes."

Barnaby and Cairns clearly breached it with their off-ice skirmish during the Penguins' 5-1 loss to the Islanders. Both were suspended indefinitely by the league office yesterday, pending a hearing with Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations, today.

Because it's pretty much unheard-of for players to have a hearing and not be suspended -- and because Cairns had to sit out the Islanders' game against the New York Rangers last night -- it's a given that Barnaby will miss the Penguins' game against Vancouver tonight at 7:38 at Mellon Arena.

There is some sentiment inside the organization that Barnaby might have to sit out a few more games, too. Not only because the league frowns on hallway brawls, but because Barnaby's antics have gotten the attention of NHL officials a few other times this season, even when he was not punished for his actions.

Last Friday, for example, referees Bernard Degrace and Mark Faucette told Penguins officials they planned to filed a report on Barnaby because of words and gestures he directed at the Edmonton bench during a 2-2 tie with the Oilers. Barnaby also seems to be a central figure anytime there's a conflict at the end of pre-game warmups.

Barnaby declined an interview request yesterday, but did offer one clarification about the events of Saturday night: The TV camera operator he called a "Puerto Rican bitch" when demanding that taping of his confrontation with Cairns be stopped was a male. Initial reports -- to say nothing of the phrase Barnaby used -- had suggested it was a woman.

While Barnaby still has not offered his account of the incident, the prevailing wisdom seems to hold that it began after Cairns, who was outside the New York locker room, saw Barnaby at the other end of the corridor and began shouting at him.

The two then moved toward each other before arriving at a curtain designed to screen players from members of the other club, at which point Cairns apparently threw the first punch.

"There were a couple of words said," Cairns told reporters. "It was the heat of the battle, and there was some tension there. I shouldn't have walked toward him."

Werenka noted that Barnaby can turn a game in his team's favor by getting the other club's top players to lose their focus. Still, his aggressive, abrasive style is a double-edged sword because it sometimes has the same effect on Barnaby.

When his emotions push him across the line -- prompting him to, say, take an ill-considered penalty that leads to a power-play goal -- the price for his team can be high. That's why Brooks believes it's critical that Barnaby learn to minimize such incidents.

"It's something that has to be worked on, no question," he said. "I've talked to Matthew about it. He has to monitor himself."

"I don't want to take Barnaby's game away from him. I don't want to suffocate him. He's got to be Matthew Barnaby. We need that personality, that style of play.

"For Matthew Barnaby to help this organization, I want him to be Matthew Barnaby. I want him to play his game on the ice, harness all that unique energy he has into the on-ice thing that can help the team."

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